Picking the Best US Lineup to Take On Costa Rica
The United States Men’s National Team takes on Costa Rica this Friday in what head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has called a “must-win situation.”
Having started out qualification with a loss on the road to Honduras, Friday’s home game in Commerce City, Colorado against Los Ticos is the U.S.’ best chance to pick up points over the next week. Next Tuesday, the U.S. will take on Mexico at the famed Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
Here’s the lineup that gives the U.S. the best chance at picking up all three points in Colorado on Friday night.
Goalkeeper: Brad Guzan
Since the 2006 World Cup, Tim Howard has been the unquestioned No. 1 in the net for the United States. In his international career, Howard has earned 85 caps and has been at the heart of many of the most impressive wins in the history of the U.S. program.
However, Howard recently sustained a back injury while playing for Everton and the U.S. must head into this crucial game without one of its most vital and most experienced players.
Thankfully for the U.S., the goalkeeper position is the one that offers the U.S. plenty of depth. Brad Guzan won the starting job for Aston Villa this season over Irish international Shay Given and has kept the job despite Villa’s terrible season. Playing for Villa has also given Guzan plenty of experience playing behind a disorganized and shoddy back line, something he will likely have to deal with on Friday night with many of the U.S.’ top defenders injured or out of form.
If for any reason Guzan can’t go against Costa Rica, Real Salt Lake netminder Nick Rimando is also very capable and one of the best pure shot-stoppers around.
Left-Back: Brek Shea
Believe it or not, the U.S. will enter Friday’s match against Costa Rica with its top seven choices at left-back unavailable.
U.S. left-back regulars Edgar Castillo and Fabian Johnson are both injured. While Michael Parkhurst, Timmy Chandler, Jonathan Spector and Eric Lichaj are all right-footed, all are capable of playing on the left. However, none of them are on the current roster.
Parkhurst has only made one start for Augsburg since his move to the club from Nordsjaelland in December. Lichaj has not played in a league match for Villa in two months, and Spector and Chandler both picked up injuries in their club games this weekend.
Jose Torres, who played left-back for the U.S. last summer, is also injured.
In fact, the only natural left-back on the roster for the Costa Rica match is the San Jose Earthquakes’ Justin Morrow. Morrow’s one international cap came in a fairly unimpressive outing against Canada this past January.
Brek Shea is not the ideal solution, but he is the best option the U.S. has. He can obviously get forward and should be able to provide some service from the flank, particularly if Costa Rica sits back in the game.
Shea is not impressive defensively and can be beat on the dribble, but he does have good recovery speed and can be given some cover on the wing by a player like Eddie Johnson or Herculez Gomez.
Shea has played some defense in the past and was even looked at by some English Premier League teams as a left-back last winter. Shea is also solid in the air.
The U.S.’ only other option on the left is DaMarcus Beasley, who has had a bit of a career resurgence since moving to Liga MX. However, Beasley has repeatedly proved over the past five years that he is no longer the player he was prior to his knee injury in 2007. Despite being given chance after chance under both Bob Bradley and Jurgen Klinsmann, Beasley has been unable to be the impact player on the international level he once was.
Furthermore, former manager Bob Bradley already tried the Beasley as a left-back experiment—and it went horribly. Brek Shea is certainly not an ideal solution, but he is the best option the U.S. currently has.
Center-Back: Omar Gonzalez
With Carlos Bocanegra not having played a club match in over a month, Jurgen Klinsmann made the controversial decision to leave the U.S. captain off the roster for these two upcoming games.
The U.S.’ next best option is Omar Gonzalez. Gonzalez has been in fine form with the L.A. Galaxy since returning from knee surgery last summer. Although Gonzalez struggled in his first big cap against Honduras in February, he is a good enough player to adapt to the international game with some more experience.
This type of on-the-job training against Costa Rica is not ideal, but it’s the best option the U.S. has.
Center-Back: Geoff Cameron
With the U.S.’ obvious lack of depth at the left and right-back positions, some pundits have already been saying that one of the solutions is to move Cameron out wide and slide Maurice Edu into the center-back spot.
Edu, after all, has some limited experience at the position, having played there at least once for both Bob Bradley and Jurgen Klinsmann. Edu has also played center-back for the U.S. at the youth level.
However, if the Cameron-Gonzalez combination is truly the center-back tandem for the future, they need to be played there together on a regular basis.
The one negative for Cameron at the position is that although it has been his natural position for much of his professional career, he has played for current club Stoke City primarily as a right-back.
Right-Back: Maurice Edu
Maurice Edu is one of the most versatile players in the USMNT player pool and has the perfect skill set to be played as a right-back.
He is tremendously athletic and solid in possession and in the air. He offers the team proven ability on set pieces and has always been a solid, if unspectacular, player for the U.S.
Furthermore, he will always struggle for playing time in the crowded center-midfield pool and a move to right-back for international duty offers him the opportunity to be a consistent contributor to the team, especially due to the fact that Timmy Chandler always seems to be injured when it comes time for international games and that Steve Cherundolo is no longer a spring chicken.
Left Midfield: Eddie Johnson
Although listed as a forward, Johnson has proved in his last few games with the U.S. that he is best deployed on the wing where he can go at defenders on the strong side and crash the back post on the weak side of the U.S. attack. This was evident in the Antigua and Guatemala matches last fall.
When Johnson has been played as a forward, most recently against Canada and stretches of the Honduras match, he has been completely ineffective.
Johnson can also help provide some defensive cover for Brek Shea down the left flank. If the U.S. needs an offensive spark late in the match, Joe Corona can be brought in off the bench.
Holding Midfielder: Michael Bradley (Captain)
Michael Bradley presents a bit of a conundrum for the U.S. in that he is the U.S.’ best player as both the team’s No. 6 and the team’s No. 8.
As a No. 8, Bradley can get forward into the attack and contribute to the scoreline with both his passing and scoring ability. However, for the U.S., he is far more valuable as the team’s No. 6.
The U.S. will need all of Bradley’s skill and experience sitting in front of two relatively untested center-backs on Friday night. From the deep-lying midfield position, Bradley can do what he always does best—break up opponent’s attacks and get possession started for the U.S. in the defensive third.
Bradley loves to come deep for the ball and his passing vision is the best on the U.S. squad. His composure with his back to pressure is remarkable and something the U.S. will need to work the ball out of the back. Finally, his tireless work ethic ensures that he will be willing and able to fall into the back line whenever there are defensive breakdowns.
Without Carlos Bocanegra, Landon Donovan and Tim Howard on the roster, Bradley should also be given the captain’s armband for the match.
Center Midfielder: Jermaine Jones
While Jermaine Jones has a number of troubling tendencies—reckless fouls, erratic play and a sometimes inconsistent work rate—he is still the U.S.’ best option going into the Costa Rica match.
If the U.S. had a healthy back line, Maurice Edu could be counted on as the holding midfielder with Bradley as the No. 8. The U.S. could also use Danny Williams as the No. 6 if he were healthy.
As it stands, Jones is the man for the job as the U.S.’ center midfielder. He can get forward and connect the U.S. on the attack and, in the No. 8 role, still has Bradley behind him to cover up any mistakes. If he’s having a bad game—not a completely implausible scenario—Sacha Kljestan can be slotted into the middle of the U.S. midfield for Jones.
If the U.S. is tied or down late in the match, Joe Corona can be brought in to spark the attack.
Right Midfield: Herculez Gomez
While Gomez is not a natural right midfielder, he is simply too good of a player not to be on the field for the U.S., and his tireless work rate is ideal for running up and down the flank.
Gomez will provide cover for the inexperienced U.S. back line tracking back defensively and can also provide the U.S. with good width and service from the flank. Gomez is also the type of goal-scoring threat that the U.S. needs to find all three points on the night.
Withdrawn Forward: Clint Dempsey
Although he has missed the last few games for Tottenham due to a calf injury, Clint Dempsey did play the entire second half this past weekend for Spurs and should be able to get the job done against Costa Rica.
Dempsey is, quite simply, the U.S.’ most dangerous player, and he is capable of scoring a long-distance golazo, poacher goals and off of set pieces.
Striker: Jozy Altidore
Although Jozy has struggled with the U.S. as of late, his work rate in the Honduras game, where he was left isolated up top for long stretches, was impressive.
If the U.S. midfield can get him some decent service, Jozy can get himself back amongst the goal scorers and help the U.S. to a vital three-point effort on Friday.
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